What to Consider Before Buying a Century Home

There's something so appealing about a century home. From gingerbread trim to old-fashioned finishes, historic homes boast distinct “character” not easily replicated in newer builds.

If you're obsessed with classical details or an old-soul hoping to put down roots, a century home might be perfect for you. However, although full of charm and history, a 100-year-old home could come with a few problems. Here are six things you need to consider before buying a century home.

Do your research

An old historical home that has been restored and rejuvenated in the Midwest.

Before you even consider putting in an offer, speak to a REALTOR® about the home's history. A REALTOR® can find out when it was built, whether the previous owners have pulled (or failed to pull) permits for additions and any recent major repairs the home has undergone. If you feel uncomfortable, don't be afraid to ask questions. Homeowners are required to answer honestly if they've had to do work on their home. For example, fixing a crack in the foundation or a leak in the plumbing. If you're hesitant about the cost to run a century home, a REALTOR® can also ask for copies of recent utility bills.

If you're satisfied with the condition of the home and decide to put in an offer, do not skip on the home inspection. A home inspector will analyze the basement or crawl space to make sure the foundation is intact, look out for signs of mould, structural issues and code violations that, if gone unnoticed, could potentially be hazardous and costly to repair. Should the inspector find any hidden problems, it can be grounds for you to ask the seller to fix the issues, negotiate a lower price, or break your sales agreement.

Plan for an added contingency fund

a century homeVia Pixabay

No matter the house, you should have a designated contingency fund for unexpected repairs. As homes age, they become prone to wear and are less likely to meet the most current building code standards. Depending on when it was last updated, you may need to fix things like wiring, plumbing and HVAC systems. Outdated electrical panels and knob and tube or aluminum wiring, for example, face a much higher risk of overheating and fire. Even if you don't intend to renovate your home, new safety-related improvements may be necessary. The more you save for these extra costs, the better prepared you'll be should they arise.

Know your potential restrictions

a heritage homePhoto by Jessica Furtney on Unsplash

If your dream home is deemed a heritage home, you may face added renovation restrictions. Any plans you have for the house will have to be approved by a committee in the town or city where you live. Some towns will only consider a house's exterior as a part of its history, whereas others will also place restrictions on interior features. Renovating an old home within the restrictions you're given may end up costing you thousands more if you need to restore or completely rebuild any features like dentil mouldings, gables or gingerbread trim.

Check if you're able to update

a heritage home

If you do plan to upgrade, you have to work with the existing structure, which means some modern updates—like an open floor plan, finished basement or forced air heating or cooling—can be more difficult to integrate. 

Make energy efficiency a priority

a dog leaning on the window sill of a century home

Homes have come a long way over the past 100 years in terms of sustainability and energy efficiency. An older home will generally equal higher utility bills, so even if you aren't noticing issues with the current state of the home, it would be wise to consider updating a few things for the sake of saving money and the environment.

Most century homes aren't well insulated. Your home inspector should be able to give you an idea of the home's current R-value(thermal resistance)—or can recommend an energy auditor to evaluate the efficiency of the home and which upgrades would have the greatest impact at improving that efficiency. The lower the R-value, the less efficient the home will be at retaining heating (or cooling) and the higher your bills will likely be—especially when our summers and winters are at their most extreme.

Windows and doors in older homes are also typically single-pane and not the dual or triple pane varieties currently on the market, which offer a better thermal value. If you don't have the budget to replace them, try adding a foam or rubber seal to door and window frames or spray foam insulation behind the trim. Window coverings can also go a long way to help reduce loss and buffer drafts.

Invest in high-quality insurance

a home near a lakePhoto by Emma Frances Logan on Unsplash

While your insurance premiums shouldn't increase as a result of buying a century home, your insurance company may not insure certain aspects of the house because of its age. Speak to an insurance broker or representative before putting in an offer to make sure everything in the home will be covered sufficiently.

Don't let the fear of the unknown keep you from buying a century home. You may not find those charming details and historic touches in a newer build. Keep these points—and a healthy contingency fund—in mind and you'll be one step closer to your dream home.


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